Vacation’s Over, Humans!

That’s right, mortals!  Your vacation, my vacation, EVERYONE’S vacation is done!  For the first time in CENTURIES (Editor’s Note: well, years, but still…a long time) yes, A LONG TIME, I decided it was time to give myself a break.  An actual, honest-to-evilness break – from work, from writing, from everything but relaxing.  And you know what?  IT…WAS…GLORIOUS!!!

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I spent an entire week waking up when I wanted, hanging out with my sons, reading, gaming, finally playing laser tag for the first time in my life (it is just as fun as I always figured it was), and oh did I mention, NOT WORKING.  It was, quite frankly, the single best week for my mental health that I’ve had in recent memory.  So yes – I’ve been away.  You’ve all been free to rebuild your little villages and prosper and whatnot.  But guess what, kiddos?  DADDY’S HOME!

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We’ve got lots and lots to talk about and get caught up on!  The Game Night! streams will of course be coming back – Beefer, Dracollia and Special Buddy in particular are itching to grace your eyes and ears again (Monkey is a little more meh on the whole stream thing).  I’ve watched and read and played so, so many things to share with you all.  In particular – if you have Netflix, consider if any of the following apply to you: Did you grow up during the 80s?  Were you a Voltron fan?  An anime fan?  An action cartoon fan in general?  A mecha fan?  Just a fan of well done animated series?  If any of these apply to you, and you have Netflix, stop what you are doing, and binge every minute of Voltron: Legendary Defender.  If you don’t have Netflix…subscribe to Netflix, and then binge every minute of Voltron: Legendary Defender.

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This is a modern reboot/retelling of the Voltron saga, but for those of us that watched the classic show when we were young (Editor’s Note: well…younger, anyway)…ahem, fear not, because the producers at Dreamworks did as well, and while Legendary Defender serves as an homage to that tale, it is not slavishly beholden to it, and the modern characterizations of the familiar characters both ring true and yet are fresh and avoid being dull retreads of a bygone era.  After a couple of full season releases, the show opted for the growing “half-season” method of release, with each season consisting of a single-digit number of episodes that comprise approximately half of an entire season’s story arc.  Season Six just released on Netflix and having watched the entire series twice now, it stands as a fantastic example of a licensed Netflix Original Series done right.  Even the occasional filler episodes include a bit of plot advancement, as well as lighthearted character moments that don’t feel like a chore to slog through just to get to the next “important” episode.  While some of the plot twists may feel like they are telegraphed at first, in reality the writers, animators and voice actors do an absolutely amazing job breathing such life into the different characters that you truly will be second guessing yourself and your predictions over and over again as the series progresses – and that’s a sign of a job well done.  To say much more would risk giving away twists that you deserve to experience for yourself – now go form Voltron!

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There will be more from here, boys and girls – so many games, good (Dragon’s Crown Pro) and…less my cup of tea (Prey).  There will be books – including my finally, inevitably crumbling to the siren song of the audiobook in the car…which has seen me basically consuming a new non-fiction book every few days, not counting what I read with my eyes, and that’s all just my pleasure reading, not my work-related legal research and writing, to say nothing of black magic, blood magic and curses (Editor’s Note: Uh, just ignore those last few…).  There will be wrestling talk – for what it’s worth, currently NJPW is the best wrestling on the planet and the only thing WWE has coming close as a whole is NXT.  On the main roster, they’ve got Styles, Bryan, and Rollins – and you give Vince and his “creative” time and they will goddamn find a way to fuck those guys up too, no matter how much talent they have.  Don’t believe me?  Go talk to Shinsuke Nakamura…or Asuka…or Sami Zayn…or Finn Balor…or literally any tag team.

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And there will be legal and political talk of course!  Like for example, I hear some citrus-fruit-based life form and his helper monkey/former-NYC-mayor have somehow formed the theory that, in a society that is literally founded on, among other things, the concept of nobody, NOBODY being above the law, the living orange can pardon himself.  That he’s incapable of committing a crime, and that even if he did, he can somehow pardon himself from that crime.  Now, I will engage in a more in-depth look at this at a later date, but for brevity and blood-pressure’s sake, let me just sum up briefly this way: no, no he cannot pardon himself, and anyone that tells him that he can, or that goes on television and advocates that he can, should not only be bounced out of the practice of law immediately, but should – and I honest to cats can’t believe I’m saying this – be liable to the poor orange bastard for damages, because he’s not a lawyer, and if he relies on advice so incredibly, recklessly, shit-stormingly stupid as being possibly true, then they should go down for it every bit as hard as he does for not having the goddamn spine to tell him the fucking truth. – EWE

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Dungeons & Dragons and MORE Dungeons & Dragons

Salutations, creatures!  I’ve missed you, too – so much so that I’ve found myself slaughtering villages out of irritability rather than solely for funsies, like I normally do.  But now here we are, together again, and just in time to discuss one of my favorite all-time subjects – Dungeons & Dragons.  Now, what brings this on, you may ask?  Well, answering that leads us to the first recommendation I have for you this week!

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A while back, I was in the bookstore and saw this sitting there and realized I had never before explored the Dragonlance campaign setting of D&D.  Also, I have a tendency to read several books at a time, and I wasn’t reading any fantasy novels at that moment.  And since this was the first book in the campaign setting, I couldn’t help but jump headfirst into YET ANOTHER fictional universe that will end up costing me lots of time and money to fully explore.  But…should I even bother?

So, the story behind the Dragonlance setting is that Weis and Hickman decided that classic Dungeons & Dragons was somewhat lacking in the dragon part of the equation, and so they decided to remedy that.  Now, this series was originally published beginning in 1984, and it wasn’t exactly the most original of works.  Tanis Half-Elven, a (gasp!) half-elf jack-of-all-trades, his surly dwarven warrior ally Flint, stoic and honorable knight Sturm, and twin brothers Caramon (a kind, gigantic, and simple-minded warrior) and Raistlin (a laughably evil mage) are a classic adventuring party who find themselves drawn into a quest to protect barbarian princess Goldmoon and her love, Riverwind, after the pair discover a mysterious crystal staff and subsequently rediscover the clerical magic of the lost gods of Krynn.

This is all about managing your expectations.  If you’re looking for the next coming of Tolkien, well, keep looking.  But even though this world and it’s characters feel like they were taken from ye olde grab bagge of fantasy tropes, just because they are tropey doesn’t mean they aren’t well-crafted and developed.  As the first book in a trilogy, Autumn Twilight does a fantastic job of resolving it’s own internal plot while still introducing plenty of elements to set up the larger conflict.  All-in-all, if you’re a fan of classic fantasy settings and stories, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a fun, breezy read.  Recommended!

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All the reading about D&D had me hankering for some classic D&D video gaming, and it doesn’t get more classic than Baldur’s Gate!  I originally played it way back in the day, but the great folks at Beamdog decided that it was time to update this classic masterpiece for modern gaming systems.  And what a fantastic job they did with that – maintaining the classic elements of the game while retouching the visuals and adding some quality of life improvements that the original release lacked.  Hence we have Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition.

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Ah, the sweet Infinity Engine.

Now, for you younger people out there, Baldur’s Gate was designed off of the classic Advanced D&D 2nd Edition rules, which are very different from the modern rules many of you may be used to.  While the mechanics are all handled by the engine behind the scenes, it still results in a much higher early-game difficulty level than any modern equivalent.  Expect to spend lots of time in combat watching everyone swing and miss everyone else.  But that isn’t to say that all of the archaic elements of the game are left untouched – the previous journal in the game was next to useless in keeping track of quests, but the new journal function is much better.  But that isn’t the biggest news – Beamdog, in addition to releasing Enhanced Editions of Baldur’s Gate and it’s sequel, it also developed and released an entirely new expansion – Siege of Dragonspear.  Intended to bridge the gap between Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II, I can’t wait to finish running my half-elf cleric/mage through the first game so I can see what this new adventure has to offer.

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These are clearly absolute classics, but that isn’t to say they are perfect.  Inventory management is still pretty awful even with the efforts Beamdog took to improve it.  You will still be loading saved games after your party is decimated by gibberlings.  You’ll still probably swear several times that you’ve rolled a useless character and start over.  But in the end, you’ll love it, because they just don’t make games like this anymore.

Until next time, kiddos, remember – as great as D&D is, sometimes you roll a 1…just like the entire United States did in the last election. – EWE

Books, Booze, and…huh, I’ll be damned, Bears – Oh My!

Greets and salutes, mortals!  How are we this evening?  Me, you ask?  Oh, I’m experiencing…some rather bothersome discomfort (Editor’s Note: MIND BOGGLING PAIN) brought on primarily by the seasonal weather.  Rather than vent my irritation by converting my lovely apartment complex into a necromancy factory – good idea, that – I have instead settled on catching up with all of you.  Aren’t you lucky?!  The correct answer to that is yes.  Unless you like being set on fire.  Then feel free to answer no.

Now, as the title above would suggest, the first item on the agenda tonight is my latest literary lark.  Actually, lark might not be the best word, considering this is a 1500 page mammoth, but I like my alliteration, so fuck it – lark it is.  Anyway, if you recall WAY back when, I gave my impressions of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, the first book in Sanderson’s epic fantasy series, The Stormlight Archives.  I’ll let you read my original impressions on that first book for yourself – but in short, I found it a very promising start to a series, particularly if you are a fan of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.  After finishing The Way of Kings, I eagerly started the second book of the series, Words of Radiance.

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I am very pleased to say that if you were a fan of the first book, you will definitely find more to love in the second.  My primary complaint about TWoK was that it could be somewhat confusing in the way it blasted the reader with new information, concepts, and terminology – sometimes it required quite a bit of work on the part of the reader to piece these together into a coherent tapestry.  But by the time you’ve begun to read WoR, you have finished TWoK and are familiar with this world and its systems.  Consequently, as a reader you can focus on what Sanderson has shown himself to be a burgeoning master of – world and character building.

All of the major characters left standing at the end of  TWoK return for WoR, and some new ones are introduced as well.  The most developed characters, and likely by intention, are Kaladin and Shallan – but none of the characters lack for significant development here.  One of the elements that I love the most about this series so far is that these men and women are flawed – not in cliche, obvious ways, but in real, believable ways.  As with many epic, sweeping narratives, at this stage it is difficult to identify any card-carrying villains – while some characters actions or plots may seem more sinister, or less honorable, than others, it is made clear that each one is acting for what he or she truly believes is the greater good.  And the world itself is a character – Sanderson’s vivid descriptions and the way in which its harsh and violent nature impacts the characters and action add tremendously to the story.

Speaking of action, I am a big fan of the way Sanderson scripts his action sequences.  In particular, the climactic battle in the closing chapters is an absolute gem – I couldn’t stop reading until I’d finished it.  Quite frankly, that sentiment applies to the entirety of this novel – once I started it, it consumed all of my spare moments until I had finished it.  My biggest gripe is that based upon Sanderson’s website, the rough draft of Book Three is still only 95% complete – meaning it will still be quire some time before we have it in our hands.  Goddammit, Sanderson – how dare your massive creative endeavor take more time than I want to wait!

But what do you need when you are engrossed in a great book?  Why…a great drink, of course!  And nothing says fun like EWE’s Rum Punch!

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This fun concoction that is relatively simple to make.  At it’s base, you’ll need Disaronno, Malibu / Captain Morgan Coconut Rum, cranberry juice, and orange juice.  Take a tall tumbler glass, fill with ice, then combine one part Disaronno, two parts rum, and fill the glass with equal parts cranberry and orange juice.  Garnish with a lime, cherry, or both, and enjoy.

But why let the fun stop there?  There are any number of varieties of flavored rum out there from both Captain Morgan and Malibu – pineapple, mango, passion fruit, etc.  You can also substitute other fruit juices, such as pineapple, cherry, etc.  So long as you base it with Disaronno and finish with orange juice, you’re going to be in good shape.  Well, until you have had four or five because they’re so damn good and you don’t notice the alcohol.  Then you might not be in good shape.  But fuck it – you won’t care!

And that brings us to bears.  Now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “how can even EWE possibly shoehorn bears into this in any kind of coherent way?

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Never doubt me again, humans.

I was humbled and honored to be nominated for a PANDA Award by the lovely and talented LightningEllen at Conquering the Gaming Backlog.  Her blog is a true gem – while the title may give away that she is chronicling her epic journey through the ever-expanding backlog that we gamers inevitably accrue (I feel you, kid.  The struggle is real.  The struggle is real real), giving us her thoughts, impressions, reviews and insights along the way, that isn’t the end of the story.  From touching tributes on Remembrance Day, sharing slices of her life (I’m currently scheduling an Amiibo intervention for you), giving glimpses of upcoming games and demos – it is an absolute treat every time I catch up on your posts.  All of you, minions, go forth and follow her, read her words, and be better for it.  Or I will find you.  And then no one will find you.  EVER.  AGAIN.

As LightningEllen said in her post, this award is particularly special because it was founded by Mr. Panda, a mainstay here in the blogging universe who has always been quick with a kind word, comment, or critique in my short time here as a malevolent omnicidal demon blogger.  What makes this award different?  Well, I will quote LightningEllen, quoting The Shameful Narcissist, quoting Mr. Panda, because I can: “This award is much different from the other chain awards floating around out there. PANDA stands for ‘Play A New Day Award’. I’ll quote the Shameful Narcissist’s quote of Mr. Panda’s explanation: ‘I want to encourage others to play for another day. No matter what is going on, whether in the world, your country, your home, or even in your mind, I want you to play for a new day. We’re all in this together, and we can make it together.’

The rules for the PANDA are quite simple.

  1. Thank the person who nominated you.
  2. Nominate any number of people for the award.
  3. Encourage them in any way, whether through thanking or complimenting them.

In considering my nominations, I must first note that LightningEllen managed to nominate a number of the same folks that I would have as well – and her words for them would be echoed by me.  But in addition to those fine folks:

Anna at Anonymously Autistic – Autism is something near and dear to my heart, as my youngest son is autistic.  No matter how much I may try to learn about and understand what that means, all the science in the world is not as insightful as a look through the eyes of someone that sees the world in much the same way that he does.  For that, I can never thank you enough.  What you do is an amazing gift for so many people, autistic or not.

Donna at Dine And Rhyme – While it is no secret to anyone that reads my blog regularly that I LOVE FOOD, far fewer people know that I also have loved and admired poetry for most of my life.  My senior thesis in high school English was an original book of (horrendously awful) poetry.  Not only do I admire the work itself, but I have the utmost respect for people that put their thoughts and feelings into prose and then open themselves by putting those poems for the world to see.  Thank you for your blog.

Toreishi at Toreishi Games – told you before about the fantastic reviews over at Toreishi’s blog, but I think I’ve come to look forward even more so to any post titled “This is not a post and the cake is a lie.”  Because I know hilarity is about to ensue.

Beauty Beyond Bones – I don’t know if I even have sufficient words to express my respect for you.  I know something of dark places, and crawling out of them, and while we may not always agree on ideologies, you chronicle your struggles and triumphs with grace and eloquence, and in doing so, you are a source of inspiration for innumerable people that may be in a similar place.  You should be very proud – not just for your own journey, but for offering your experience to others as well.

And with that, my little ones, we come to the end of tonight’s journey.  As always, I am grateful and humbled that you joined me.  Whatever the cause of my sleepless nights – be it pain, confusion, loneliness, or what have you, I take solace in knowing that you are there.  If you ever need someone who has wronged you punished…or their family…or friends…or neighbors…you get the point – I’m your Evil Wizard. – EWE

 

Tomb Raider, The Way of Kings, and the Power of (Evil) Friendship

Welcome once again, my devoted minions!  We will be keeping things relatively positive once again tonight, and more on why toward the end.  Now, lets get down to it, shall we?

The recent announcement at E3 of the Xbox One S had me tremendously excited – not because I had a 4K TV with HDR, but because it was now an absolute certainty that the prices on the original Xbox One would plummet as a result.  And sure enough, for less than what the 500 GB Xbox One cost when it launched, I managed to snag a bundle including a 2 TB Xbox One and a metric shit-ton of games.  One of the games I was most excited to play was Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.  I had been turned off in the past by some of the original, PS1 era games in the Tomb Raider franchise, and had consequently held off on playing through the reboot of the series, despite critical acclaim.  But fuck, am I glad that I finally did.

Part of my hesitancy was due to my prior experiences with protagonist Lara Croft.  Now I will fully admit that writing a strong female lead isn’t simple, and that what makes a strong female character may vary from person to person.  But in the early days of Tomb Raider, the prevailing school of thought seemed to be that a strong female character appeared to be “engages in physically taxing adventures while maintaining over-the-top levels of sexuality at all times.”  I’m well aware of the constraints of game hardware at the time, as well as the need to appeal to the primary gaming demographic of that era – after all, I was that target demographic – but for me personally, it was just too much suspension of disbelief that was being asked for.  A highly educated and trained woman who chooses to brave the unknown in hot pants and a painted on tank top?  It didn’t make any sense.  Coupling this character dissonance with controls that were clunky at best just led me to stay away from the series after my first couple of forays, even after developer Crystal Dynamics took the reigns and began to rehabilitate the franchise.

But this Lara Croft, in Tomb Raider: Definitive Addition?  This is one of the most believable, realistic, and strongest female characters not only in gaming, but in modern media.  Is she still beautiful?  Undoubtedly – in my opinion even more so – but it is her inner strength of character in the face of soul-crushing adversity that truly takes center stage in this game.

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Every one of her trials leaves its physical mark, but it’s the scars on her soul that truly last.

Lara Croft is not a globe trotting adventurer here.  She is a young, brilliant archaeologist looking to translate her readings and research into a real discovery.  She isn’t out looking for a fight – circumstances force her to survive against the odds and in the face of horrific danger.  And Lara, both physically and emotionally, reacts exactly as one might expect someone of little experience, but much inner strength, would.  Her frantic and narrow escapes leave her soaked, shivering, and covered in grime.  When she is forced to kill, which she has never done, she reacts with revulsion, and the blood spatter remains as a grim reminder of the innocence lost to the cruel demands of survival.  To go into too much detail would be to spoil moments that you should go and experience for yourself – but suffice to say, THIS Lara Croft is easily one of my favorite characters in all my years of gaming, and even in all of fictional media.

The gameplay itself is fantastic as well – both exploration and combat controls are tight and responsive, and I find that the shooting mechanics are a step above that of the Uncharted series, which itself is a spiritual successor to those early Tomb Raider games.  There are secrets to be found all over each area map, from collectible treasures to hunting challenges to optional secret tombs to explore.  One complaint I have is that in early areas of the game, you can feel somewhat hamstrung and frustrated in combat due to only having access to a single crude bow and a limited arrow supply.  It can be annoying trying to run and dodge from a pack of wolves, circling you out of sight in the woods and then springing at you from all directions, all while trying to line up a bow shot to whittle their numbers down.  However, it never really feels unfair – the wolves behave exactly as you would expect pack predators to take on a single target, and Lara’s struggles mirror those of a young woman thrust into fending for herself in the wild unexpectedly.

All in all, this game is amazing – an absolute top-notch action-adventure that solidly places Tomb Raider back on its throne and Lara Croft standing triumphant as one of the best examples of female characterization in the medium.  Go and play this game.  Unless you hate yourself.  And even then, go play it.  Or maybe you hate strong female characters, in which case, fuck you, Trump voter – get the hell out of here.

Now, as promised, my impressions on Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, Book One of The Stormlight Archives.  For those of you too goddamn lazy to read this whole thing, I’ll do you a solid – if you have read and enjoyed Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, go pick up this series now.  Sanderson seems to be a master at hitting all of the sweet spots of the epic fantasy genre – fully realized, developed, and fleshed-out world, with rich social, political, economic, and racial histories; a balanced and internally logical system of magic; and sweeping battles with far-reaching geopolitical consequences.

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Have any idea what these guys are doing?  Well the book thinks you do.

That’s not to say that this book starts out necessarily easy to like, or even to understand.  Sanderson adopts the tactic of beginning his story in media res – which while functional when a story takes place in our world, or a close facsimile, can become incredibly confusing when the book just starts throwing around terms and names and concepts with little-to-no explanation, as if you should already be familiar with them.  There are the occasional one or two sentences of explanation each time a new person or mechanic of the world is addressed, and if you are patient you can piece these together and build an understanding of the world and what makes it function.  To add somewhat to the confusion level, Sanderson also likes to jump back and forth in time between chapters, by years, centuries, or millennia, with no immediate connection between the time periods.  The links do begin to make themselves clear over the course of the book – but at 1250 pages, it will be some time before it all begins to make sense.  However, all of these issues aside, it is a tremendous achievement in world-building and if you can be patient through the early information dump, the characters and tales woven will leave you eager to move on to the second book in the series.  Highly recommended for fans of the epic fantasy genre – but if you are a newcomer to these series, you may want to start with something a little less daunting.

Finally…do you know how to recognize who your best friend is?  I mean, in my case it’s somewhat easier as there are so very few candidates (I’m not what you would call “likable”) but how do you know which one is at the top of the class of people that give a flying fuck about you?  Well, you’re in luck!  I’m going to tell you.  You’re best friend is the one that you tell how you are going to start a blog as a way to deal with all of the shit that’s happened to you, and they simultaneously do two things.  1. They unconditionally support you, become the first person to start reading your blog, and help you with ideas for it.  2. They go out and buy a mug for you for the EXPRESS PURPOSE of mocking you for starting a blog.

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Not Pictured: The enclosed “Thank You” card which had “Thank” crossed out and replaced with “This is a card for” and ending with (shrug).

Now, when you’re as evil and blackhearted as me, there is an extra component to friendship that holds some people up all the more – your best friend is the one that will sit with you and rip apart all of the people you can’t stand together.  You’re the best, Amber.  And the new whiskey holder isn’t the only reason why!

Until next time, humans, remember – if you are just dead-set on voting for an omnicidal megalomaniac who is only trying to amass power to pursue his own private interests at the expense of anyone else, then don’t vote for Trump.  Just fucking vote for me.  Because at the very least I’m being up-front when I tell you that I have no business being president, and will gladly utilize the victory for my own sole benefit.  What’ve you got to lose? – EWE